Psychological Trauma

 

Summary

 

Laurie Anne Pearlman, Ph.D.

 

Copyright 1999 by Trauma, Research, Education and Training Institute, Inc.

 

What is psychological trauma?

 

Psychological trauma is the experience of stress and distress that are too much to handle emotionally and psychologically.

 

Traumatic stress is a natural reaction to a violent event (such as group violence, rape, other assault, accidents, and natural disasters) or to horrible chronic life conditions (such as poverty, neglect, and deprivation).

 

Witnessing violence can also lead to traumatic stress.

 

The essential ingredients are being overwhelmed emotionally and feeling like you are going to die or disintegrate (come apart).

 

Secondary traumatic stress comes about when something awful happens to people we love or care about.

 

Perpetrators too may experience traumatic stress.

 

 

What are the signs and symptoms of trauma?

 

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

 

      re-experiencing the traumatic event

 

      avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic events or circumstances

 

      "physiological hyperarousal," which is an unpleasant, biologically based, sensitivity

 

Other typical problems people may experience as part of traumatic stress:

 

      Biological (bodily) problems

 

      Emotional (feeling) problems

 

      Cognitive (thinking) problems

 

      Behavioral (doing) problems

 

      Interpersonal (relating) problems

 

      Social problems and their psychological consequences

 

      Spiritual (meaning) problems

 

 

What do traumatized children look like?

 

Withdrawn, quiet, shy, reserved, or "moody"

 

Aggressive, hitting or biting others, calling names, bullying, provoking fights with adults or other children, or abusing younger children or animals

 

Nightmares

 

Play out scenes of horrible events

 

Return to behaviors they had "grown out of," like wetting the bed at night, sucking their

thumbs, talking "baby talk," or other, younger, behaviors.

 

 

Trauma, needs, and relationships

 

Harder to meet basic psychological needs, including:

 

Safety: the ability to feel that oneself and loved ones are secure and protected

 

Trust: the ability to rely on one's own judgment and to depend on others

 

Esteem: the ability to feel good about oneself and to value others

 

Intimacy: the ability to feel and understand one's own experience and to feel connected to others

 

Control: the ability to feel a reasonable level of control over one's own behaviors and to feel effective with others

 

Meaning: the ability to understand one's world and experience

 

When we can't meet our basic needs in constructive ways, our relationships change.

 

 

Patterns and determinants of problems

 

The specific problems each person develops depend on

 

      who that person is

 

      the circumstances surrounding that person's traumatic experiences, and

 

      the available support.

 

The people who will have a harder time are those who

 

      were physically closer to traumatic events when they occurred

 

      were victims of intentional harm

 

      have had previous traumatic experiences

 

      have less support or fewer meaningful connections with others

 

      have personal histories of psychological difficulties.

 

 

Important points to remember

 

1. The hallmark of traumatic stress is disrupted spirituality.

 

2. The context for traumatic stress following group violence is social disruption.

 

3. There are individual differences in traumatic stress.

 

4. People's responses and needs will vary across time and situations.

 

5. Symptoms are adaptations:

 

Every symptom is an attempt to solve some dilemma or to meet some basic need.

 

 

 

Psychological trauma summary.doc

(September 1,1999)